The patient interactions in a healthcare call center simultaneously impact both patient satisfaction and operational efficiency, so it is of the utmost importance to deliver a standardized and positive patient experience during every phone call. Healthcare systems can deliver these quality interactions by combining the right technology with quality patient data and patient-focused service. For large organizations, however, updating and integrating existing technologies presents an enormous challenge. Often, a hospital or health system will have multiple call centers and EMR platforms, plus budget constraints and leadership opposed to change. Even faced with these types of obstacles, many healthcare systems have been able to achieve standardized and optimized interactions.
Before implementing or even recommending changes to a call center, performing a self-assessment allows an organization to identify any obstacles before implementation. A full evaluation prevents missteps that result in wasted time and resources, and with such a complex undertaking, this information is vital to have. A simple way to start the review process is to evaluate your organization from two viewpoints—your organization’s and the patients’. It’s important to get the full picture by understanding not only how your own organization views its call center operations, but to also consider how the patient navigates through your call center and how they feel about their experiences.
Before looking at your own organization’s call center operations, look at what your competitors are doing. You can get a good idea of what current patient expectations are going to be in your local market by knowing what kind of experience your competitors deliver. Though your organization may offer exceptional care, if patients are offered higher levels of convenience and personalization from your competitors, your organization is at risk of losing their business. Developing a checklist to compare what their organizations offer versus what your organization offers can also help later in the process when trying to get buy-in from all leadership.
Delivering a convenient and personalized experience is key to attracting and retaining patients. Patients want to be communicated with in the channel of their preference, so if a patient prefers text messages to phone calls, your call center agents should be enabled with the tools to communicate this way.
Also consider how many phone numbers patients are tasked with remembering. If they call the wrong number to pay their bill or schedule an appointment with a specialist, are they going to experience multiple call transfers and long hold times? Or do all calls come to a centralized call center that can expertly route all calls? No one enjoys spending lots of time and effort to complete a simple task, which is why many providers offer self-service options to speed things up for patients. While automation is regularly instrumental in the revitalization of a call center, a human interaction is still required for certain phone calls. Evaluate how your organization uses IVR and staff to see if you have the right balance.
Before starting the process of modernizing a call center, healthcare systems should analyze key metrics to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their contact center. Reviewing patient satisfaction scores can help identify existing pain points. Beyond solely using patient feedback from surveys, other internal metrics are often used to detect serious call center problems. For example, if there are high call abandonment rates or repeat calls, you should check to see if the call center is experiencing too high a call volume to effectively manage. Other metrics such as lengthy call times and hold times, plus multiple transfers on the same call, are typically signs that it is taking too long for patients to reach the agent who can help them. To avoid wasted resources, use these types of metrics to first find the problems, and then investigate the root causes before proposing a specific solution.
Call center agents are the front line for a healthcare organization, so it is crucial to give them the right tools and resources that enable them to deliver exceptional patient interactions. Agents should be able to easily access the patient data they need to complete a variety of tasks—so if they have to navigate through multiple systems, then service levels are likely suffering. Problems can also arise if agents don’t have the ability to schedule appointments for all physicians, including those in a specialty area or clinic. To identify gaps in service, look to gain a comprehensive understanding of how your agents are resolving each incoming call type.
Modernizing the call center of a health system is a daunting challenge, but as with any large project, spending ample time on the prep work will help the project go smoothly. A full review of your current call center operations will help your organization safeguard against misplaced resources and help you create a feasible timeline for execution. For a project of this magnitude, healthcare systems will often partner with a company that has expertise in the full range of contact center technologies, plus extensive experience in working in the healthcare industry. In today’s increasingly competitive healthcare market, it is crucial to deliver optimized patient experiences along the entire care continuum, thus necessitating continuous updating of all organizational processes, including call centers.
If you would like to learn more about evaluating your contact center, read this Electronic Health Reporter article, Optimizing the Hospital Contact Center to Efficiently Service More Patients.